Adam Floyd and Brandon Powers
The Valdosta Daily Times
A review of Lowndes High School video footage shows more than the moments Kendrick Johnson entered the old gymnasium where his body was discovered Jan. 11 in a rolled wrestling mat.
It reveals what is likely the 17-year-old’s final walk through Lowndes High School.
The Times has spent numerous hours reviewing the video and case reports released recently by court order. The Times has discovered video footage of Kendrick Johnson in another part of the school then followed his path as he made his way to the gymnasium.
In reviewing this footage, The Times found additional video with time stamps, and discovered the reason time stamps are missing from some of the video. Times research also reveals that the school’s video time stamps were not synchronized, but there is no apparent discrepancy in Johnson’s path from one part of the school to the old gymnasium.
This is the first part of a two-part series reviewing the videos and the case file into the death of the LHS student, a death which a state autopsy ruled accidental, but a family-sponsored autopsy ruled non-accidental. The second part of this series is scheduled to run in Friday’s editions of The Times.
Lowndes High School video surveillance footage does not show how or when Kendrick became trapped in the mat where students discovered his body in January. The old gymnasium’s security cameras are positioned so the area where the wrestling mats were stored is not visible. Video shows Kendrick entering the old gym but never leaving. The videos cannot definitively answer the question of how Kendrick died, but previously unseen footage does show how and when he reached the old gym.
Before describing what might be Kendrick’s final moments, it is important to note that piecing together an exact timeline of events has been difficult. There are six separate video surveillance servers at LHS, and each camera sends footage to one of those servers. The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office requested footage from three of the servers to aid its investigation, said Warren Turner, attorney for the Lowndes County School System.
The footage from those 59 cameras was exported by Scott Forthe, senior technology technician with Lowndes County Schools, and given to detectives on an external hard drive the afternoon Kendrick’s body was found. The same footage was made available to the Johnson family and media outlets through open records requests following a judge’s ruling Oct. 30.
Each surveillance server has its own internal clock, and one server’s clock may not match another’s. The servers do not communicate with each other to “sync-up” their clocks, said Al Rowell, director of technology for Lowndes County Schools. Not having that time-sync capability can lead to extreme time differences between the servers. For example, when one camera captures what is happening at noon, another camera on a separate server could capture the same moment but time-stamp it as 12:10 p.m.
Creating a timeline becomes even more problematic when looking at the footage from Jan. 10 and 11. The video was exported from the school’s two Integral Technologies servers and one Toshiba Surveillix server. The footage from the Integral cameras show approximately 36 hours worth of footage from the school’s old gym and surrounding areas, and the Surveillix cameras capture approximately 48 hours of the C-wing and administrative office areas.
In a Nov. 7 press conference, Chevene King, one of the lawyers representing the Johnson family, stated that the video footage did not contain time stamps and that there was no “way of making sense of what it purports to show.”
Following that statement, The Times reported that time stamps were not present. Since then, The Times has been able to determine that time stamps do exist for at least a portion of the videos.
The videos supplied to the Johnson family and The Times from the sheriff’s office are separated into two folders on an external hard drive. The folder labeled “LHS Integral Cameras” contains video files exported from the school’s two Integral Technology servers. The Integral server files do not contain time stamps and can be viewed using most media players. The folder labeled “LHS Surveillix Cameras” contains software and raw data camera footage. The Surveillix software must be installed on a computer to view the footage and time stamps.
Using the Surveillix software, it is possible to trace Kendrick’s last foot steps from the entrance to C-wing near classroom C305 to the old gym. The time stamps from the Surveillix system are relatively accurate given that third block classes were dismissed at approximately 1:25 p.m. on Jan. 10 and students can be seen leaving classrooms at that time.
Walking Through Time
In the Surveillix footage, Kendrick is first seen entering C-wing near the school’s foreign language classrooms at 1:25 p.m. He is walking alone, carrying the yellow folder that investigators would later find near his body. His fall semester report card is inside. He smiles as he turns the corner near the B-wing stairs and continues to walk down the hallway in front of the guidance and administration offices. He does not stop to talk to anyone, no one is following him, and he does not appear to be following anyone.
The last time-stamped video of Kendrick Johnson shows him opening the doors to the hallway that leads to the old gym at 1:27 p.m.
The rest of Kendrick’s walk was captured by the two separate Integral surveillance servers. The videos do not contain time stamps, but the footage can be matched to image stills from the case file that were printed from the surveillance system at the school the day of the incident.
The time stamps on the still images are incorrect and the discrepancy was first noticed the day Kendrick’s body was found. Lowndes County Sheriff’s Detective Jack Priddy advised Sheriff’s Lt. Stryde Jones that Kendrick was spotted on video entering the old gym at 1:09 p.m., but the time stamp was “inaccurate,” according to the unredacted Kendrick Johnson case file,
The more reliable time stamp on the Surveillix footage places Kendrick entering the old gym at 1:28 p.m. The Integral server that captured Kendrick entering the gym is approximately 28 minutes behind the Surveillix footage.
No camera shows footage of Kendrick leaving the old gym through the rear entrance or the two doorways that lead into the hall. Kendrick’s next class was weight training in the school’s field house, but he was marked absent during fourth block on Jan. 10 in the attendance records included in the case file.
The 10 Minute Gap
In addition to the almost half-hour discrepancy between the still image time stamps from the Integral server and the Surveillix video time stamps, there is an almost 10 minute gap that appears to exist between a still image from the case file that shows Kendrick just outside the door to the old gym at 12:59 p.m. and another still image that shows him inside the gym at 1:09 p.m. The discrepancy, again, is due to servers being out of sync.
Footage from the hallway in front of the old gym was collected in an Integral server located in the school’s B-wing, and the footage from inside the old gym was collected from an Integral server located in the cafeteria. The two systems are not time-synced. The B-wing server is approximately 10 minutes behind the cafeteria server.
In actuality, there is no 10 minute gap. The apparent time shift is the result of two separate surveillance servers having two different time stamps. To support this conclusion, two students can be seen on the B-wing server entering the old gym 18 seconds after Kendrick, and those same students are seen in the gym one frame after Kendrick exits the field of view walking toward the direction of the wrestling mats.
The time stamps show a 10 minute difference, but that is not supported by the actual footage and the acknowledgment from school officials that the time stamps are inaccurate.
What Happened to the Time Stamps
At the Nov. 7 press conference, Benjamin Crump, another lawyer representing the Johnson family, and Chevene King pointed to the absence of time stamps and the 10 minute gap between the two still images as proof of a “conspiracy to conceal the truth” and questioned why still images with time stamps could be provided but not video.
During a demonstration of how the surveillance system works, Forthe described to The Times how the Integral footage was exported and why time stamps were not included.
School administrators and resource officers have access to a program called Integral Remote View from their office computers. This software allows school officials to view surveillance footage without having to go to the room where the servers are physically located.
Forthe said he was asked by detectives on Jan. 11 to export video as soon as possible, and he did so under the supervision of detectives using Integral Remote View software at a school administrator’s computer.
Forthe demonstrated to The Times how Integral Remote View software does allow image stills to be created and printed with time stamps, but does not allow video to be exported with time stamps even though the time can be seen on a computer screen while using the software.
Forthe also demonstrated how video footage with time stamps can be exported by using different software directly at the server location, but he was not in the server room using that software when he was asked to export the video by detectives.
Since the initial export, the servers containing the raw video data have been locked in a vault. The only time they have been removed, said Warren Turner, was at the request of the Johnson family. On Feb. 28, Turner received a letter from Chevene King requesting images that show Kendrick in the old gym. Those images were given to the family March 5, and the servers were placed back in the vault.
The Other Cameras
Although footage from only 59 cameras was requested by the sheriff’s office, investigators looked at footage from every camera while on-site at LHS, said sheriff’s Lt. Jones. Footage from D-wing was not requested, but a still image included in the case file shows Kendrick entering his first block class in D-Wing at 8:33 a.m. on Jan. 10., demonstrating that at least some of the footage was viewed by investigators.
Turner said investigators knew they always had the option to return and review the additional footage if it became pertinent to their investigation.
The Times has previously reported on the apparent disappearance of students on surveillance footage, and in the Nov. 7 press conference, Crump pointed to this instance as further proof of a “conspiracy.”
Jim Elliott, attorney for the sheriff’s department, released a statement following the conference explaining the phenomenon is the result of the Integral cameras being motion activated and that the cameras do not record video but take still images at the rate of one frame per second.
Rowell supplied The Times with documents from Integral Technologies that further explain why students who are seen on camera suddenly vanish.
The surveillance cameras in the gym are activated when the camera detects a change in light. A student moving across the camera’s field of view can trigger the camera to record but not always. The camera breaks each image into “blocks” and measures the number of “blocks” that change at any given moment. A certain percentage of blocks has to change before the camera begins to record. If a student walked directly in front of the camera, in the foreground, more “blocks” are changed because the student is occupying more of the image. If a student is further away, in the background, the number of “blocks” changed may not hit the threshold to start recording, according to Integral Technologies documents.
In the case of students who vanish from the video, giving the impression that the video has been altered, those students were in the background of video that was already being recorded. When action in the foreground ceased, the required number of “blocks” was not met and recording stopped and then immediately resumed once that “block” percentage was reached again, making it appear that students had either vanished or that the footage had been altered.